Lester finally gets result he's been pitching for


Lester finally gets result he's been pitching for

CLEVELAND Jon Lester said his confidence never totally disappeared when he went nearly two months without a win.

Sure it took a beating and was a little bloodied when the Toronto Blue Jays rocked him at Fenway Park in the worst start of his career. Going a career-worst seven starts without a win would take the starch out of any elite starting pitcher thats used to achieving good results, and plenty of them.

So Sunday afternoons masterpiece of mound dominance from Lester was exactly what the doctor ordered for the 27-year-old left-hander, and the kind of vintage outing that could bring everything shooting back for him.

Jon was terrific. He had a chance at a Major League strikeout record if I left him in and he struck everybody out, said Bobby Valentine, who mercifully removed his lefty after six innings and 101 pitches. He was pitching so well and he wasnt getting any wins. Pitching well now and then getting the win? That kind of thing might just get him on a roll.

The southpaw fanned a season-high 12 Indians hitters in Bostons 14-1 drubbing of the Tribe at Progressive Field, and allowed only three hits and one earned run in a performance everybody around the Red Sox has been waiting for.

The waiting list includes, of course, Lester himself.

Its big. Its nice. I struggled a little bit early on getting into the strike zone. But then we were able to settle in and move the ball around the plate, said Lester. I had my curveball for strikes and for chase swings. You dont have that a lot of times, so it was nice to have. Well build off that.

It sounds bad but there comes a point where you have to stop worrying about your stats and just worry about keeping your team in the game. Thats what I have kind of come to since my bad one against Toronto: just keep them in the game and in striking distance. Everything else will take care of itself. Its easier said than done, but its one of those deals where I just have to pitch.

The pitcher had stopped keeping track of his own personal stats, and that seemed to be when the turnaround occurred. Over the last four starts since the 11-run debacle against Toronto, hes 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA and has fanned 29 hitters in his last 26 23 innings pitched.

The 12 strikeouts, and the rapid rise of his swing-and-miss ratio over those last four starts, is exactly what the doctor ordered to start building back Lesters mound swagger. It was against a weak Cleveland lineup on Sunday, but it was also unmistakable as two out of every three outs record was a punch-out.

I know what type of pitcher I am. I knew that my stuff was there, said Lester. I would have liked to have gone another inning or two rather than the 12 Ks, but theyre nice. Its a confidence-booster when I throw the pitches Ive been throwing all year and I get some swings and misses.

Lester had everything working against the Tribe: the mid-90s fastball, the biting curve and the cut fastball with the slider action. It all locked in after immediately being put on his heels in the first inning when handed a 3-0 lead right out of the gate courtesy of an Adrian Gonzalez home run.

Lester was faced with first-and-third with nobody out right out of the gate in the first inning, and he managed to get out of the jam while surrendering only a single run. The Sox offense brought the thunder for the rest of the game to the tune of 14 runs and 16 hits, and Lester cruised.

Getting out of that jam was just as vital a confidence-builder as the dozen strikeouts because it was those very same jams that have morphed into mushroom clouds on Lester all year-long. Its the reason why a hurler with his stuff still has a 5.20 ERA and a 6-10 record this year.

But it sounds like Lester has finally turned the corner.

Limiting damage is big. To limit them to one run in that first inning situation was exactly the kind of thing Ive been missing all year, said Lester. You need those innings wHere you get into jams and you limit them to one, or maybe two. This year its been three, four or five run rallies, so it was nice to get out with just one and allow the offense to go to work.

Time will tell whether the lefty did it soon enough to possibly get the Red Sox back into a fading playoff picture. But just having the old Lester back after a season lost at sea is good news in and of itself.

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.